Oh, Ranger!
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Forty-five Years Later

FORTY-FIVE years have slipped into history since we collaborated in Yellowstone National Park to write Oh, Ranger! Twenty-five years have elapsed since the eleventh and last printing appeared. During this momentous quarter century, much has happened to the National Park Service and to the park rangers, most of it good. To paraphrase a popular old chanty of by-gone times, "The old park ranger, he ain't what he used to be, he ain't what he used to be—he's a whole lot more."

"Oh, Ranger, how did you get to be a park ranger?" Back in the twenties, the answer might have been, "Well, Ma'am, I guess I was just born to the job."

This was literally true in some cases, such as that of Eivind T. Scoyen, who rose from ranger to chief to superintendent, then to associate director of the National Park Service in Washington, D. C. Scoyen was born in Yellowstone, son of a young couple of Norwegian ancestry employed by the park concessioner.

In 1972, the answer might well be, "Sir, when I graduated from college and got married, the Park Service accepted my application, and following orders, I took my bride to Grand Canyon for a wonderful honeymoon while I crammed at the ranger academy several months, learning how to build trails, ride horses, fight forest fires, manage crews, protect Nature. And how to handle traffic and crowds."

"Ranger academy," the rangers' popular term for their Park Service postgraduate schooling, could be either the Horace M. Albright Training Center at Grand Canyon National Park or the Stephen T. Mather Training Center at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, where ranger-naturalists are turned out. Both, it might be added, are co-educational schools.

"Ranger, how many hours do you work?"

In the early days, the reply would have been, "Not more than a hundred hours a week, Ma'am, in slack times—such as in winter when there are no Dudes in the park and there's not much to do but patrol on snowshoes or skis to keep poachers from killing the wild animals."

Half a century later, when poachers and other trespassers are a vanishing breed, the answer is different. Park rangers worked forty-hour weeks, and in shifts. Even before the Women's Lib Movement hit the service in the fifties, distaff rangers had taken over a lot of the duties that once kept men tied to desks or checkpoints. The girls in their special uniforms are now accepted as equals, except when it comes to fighting forest fires, but even then some of them man supply trucks. Many young women become outstanding ranger-naturalists and historians. They rate the same pay as the men, have similar opportunities for advancement, and some have even become superintendents of park areas. The national park ranger force, having grown from a few hundred in the twenties to several thousand to day, is no longer the exclusive club of rugged men of the mountains.

"How much do they pay you, Ranger?" is another hot question. "It's so wonderful up here in the mountains, you ought to be willing to work for nothing."

"That's about what we do, Ma'am," was the answer back in the twenties. "All we do is answer questions during the day and dance all evening with the pretty lady Dudes. And to think they give us a hundred bucks a month for it!"

With that hundred dollars the old-time ranger bought his uniform, paid for his meals, provided his own sleeping bag and sometimes his own horse. Even so, there was a surplus of applicants. A form letter from Yellowstone headquarters advised that the park wanted men "big of frame, of pleasing personality, tactful, diplomatic and courteous, experienced in the out-of-doors, in riding, camping, wood craft and fighting fires." All for $100 a month!

By 1972, the mix for the making of a park ranger had changed considerably. Most applicants are college men or women, not necessarily graduates, but individuals who have had at least some studies in engineering, sociology, ecology and administration. The Park Service puts the frosting on the cake at the training centers. Ranger pay starts at $6800 a year with the lure of working up to $18,000 a year as chief ranger, and even more for administrative positions in the regional offices. Rangers of the seventies work union hours, although there are no organized unions. Their tenure, once they have made the grade, is protected by the Civil Service.

Nearly all of the 1972 park and monument superintendents started as rangers and worked up. One Old-Timer, Superintendent John S. McLaughlin of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, started as a ranger in Yellowstone about the time the first edition of Oh, Ranger! went to press in 1928. The CCC program of 1933 brought to the national parks many fine young men who stayed on as rangers and today hold administrative offices.

"What happens to ex-rangers? Do they just fade away?"

"Not on your life, sir." Many ex-rangers have made good use of their ranger discipline in other walks of life. Some have become top men in industry, the professions and politics. Ranger Horace A. Hildreth served two terms as Governor of Maine. Rangers Joseph W. Byrns and William Henry Harrison became Congressmen from Wyoming and Tennessee respectively. Ranger Allan Sproul climbed to the presidency of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Ranger Dean Witter heads the nation-wide brokerage firm: Dean Witter & Company. Rangers Ed Rynearson and Charles Watkins became outstanding staffers of the prestigious Mayo Clinic; and Ranger Nathan T. Bartlett now heads the Humes Foundation. Just to mention a few men who made good after their ranger service.

"Oh, Ranger, how do you get a job as temporary ranger? My son Bill would like to spend a summer in the mountains and I think it would be good for him."

"Well, Bill, it used to be that all you had to do was write a convincing letter to the superintendent of the park of your choice, and if you had qualifications, he'd sign you on as a 'Ninety Day Wonder,' as the summer-only rangers were called. Not any more. So many young men hanker for these choice summer jobs that it's like getting into West Point or Annapolis. You need a letter from your Congressman, more from your professors and former employers. And if you are a military service veteran, mention that. Then the Park Service will screen you to see how you react under pressure of crowds, how you'd handle traffic jams, and whether that welcome smile will stick on your face after a long, grueling day at a check-in station. The Park Service prefers the summer ranger who may want to stay in the forest green uniform during the rest of the year. The pay is $500 per month; you buy your own meals and uniform. Good luck, Bill."

"What kind of people make the best rangers?"

Well, any kind of people of any race, creed or color who have a genuine feeling for Nature, and who care what happens to Nature. Native Americans make good rangers. A full-blooded Zuni is the Park Service archaeologist in Hawaii National Park, along with rangers of Japanese, Chinese, and Hawaiian blood. A ranger is a ranger, regardless of the color of his skin, as long as he has a real kinship with Nature, people, bears and chipmunks. And waterfalls, geysers, cliffs and trout.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the ranger's job has grown mightily, along with the National Park System. Half a century back there were only national parks and national monuments. Now there are a dozen other categories, among them national seashores, lakeshores, battlefields, military parks, historic sites, and memorial parkways. In addition, each state has its own park system administered by the state and protected by state park rangers. The ranger's task in the early days was to protect natural wonders from vandalism and exploitation, to guard the wildlife from poachers and to help visitors enjoy the wilderness. Those were the happy days when a million visitors to the parks in a summer rated as a banner season.

Today the national parks have become known as America's greatest holiday bargain and up to 200,000,000 visitors a year check through the ranger stations. The modern ranger must cope with problems the pioneer ranger never faced. In Yosemite Valley, for example, up to 30,000 holidayers drop in over a single summer weekend. Yosemite National Park is a spacious chunk of the Sierra Nevada Range. But Yosemite Valley, into which the waterfalls and the tourists pour, is a compact little vale about a mile wide and seven miles long. Overnight the serene valley becomes a temporary city on wheels. As camping grounds become packed like human sardine cans and traffic piles up bumper to bumper, the rangers find themselves motor patrol men and peace officers. In the summer of 1970, disorders broke out that called for the law enforcement skill of a sheriff's posse. The rangers had to be that posse.

Eventually the Park Service was forced to take drastic, if unpopular, measures to save Yosemite Valley, or at least a part of it. The upper, or eastern, third was closed off to automobiles. Only afoot or on horseback or via sightseeing elephant-train could visitors enjoy Happy Isles, Vernal Falls and Indian Caves. There were howls from Yosemite devotees who remembered the valley as a haven from crowds and noise, but the plagues of modern civilization have followed too many visitors into the Yosemite wilderness.

Yellowstone rangers are faced with similar population pile-ups at Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Most other parks have had their own experiences with periodic people explosions. The ranger's role is no longer just conserving Nature's wonders. His burden is to preserve them with crowd management techniques and environmental planning that will keep them, to borrow a phrase from the original Act of Congress creating Yellowstone National Park a century back, "the pleasuring grounds of the people," for many years to come.

"Oh, Ranger, where do we go from here?"

"Ma'am, that's the toughest question of all."


Oh, Ranger!
©1928, 1929, 1934, 1972, Horace M. Albright and Frank J. Taylor
albright-taylor/chap10.htm — 06-Sep-2004